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The Mask of Marine Le Pen

It's a very edifying story.

For months, if not years, people in France and abroad have been trying to prove that Marine Le Pen has not changed as much as she would have us believe.

Her platform and her positions have been decoded.

Her friendships, her bonds, with far-right parties in Europe, have been noted.

Critics remind us that she has never distanced herself from the coarse language and style of her father, the former leader of the party she now heads -- or from his anti-Semitic barbs.

Now, in a mere 20 seconds, speaking to Thomas Sotto, a journalist for Europe 1 who hadn't even tried to set a trap for her, she herself has torn away the veil and shot herself in the foot.

The story is as plain as day.

France had just welcomed back four citizens who had been held hostage for three years by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

It was a moment, not of consensus necessarily, but of shared emotion and happiness such as democratic nations occasionally enjoy, thank heaven.

The time for questions, debates perhaps, would come -- but this was a moment of solidarity with the hostages and their families, who had been through so much, a moment of tearful joy that moved the entire country.

But behold Mrs. Le Pen who -- instead of sharing in that emotion, instead of rejoicing with the rest of us as the country she claims to love welcomes back four of its own, instead of asking herself, like the political leader that she is trying so desperately hard to become, about the physical, psychological, and spiritual stress that such a long stay in hell must exact -- comes out with a bizarre statement, a short one, granted, but truly bizarre, involving the length of the hostages' beards and the style of their headgear, expressing not joy but the "malaise" she says she feels at their return.

In suggesting that our four compatriots may have been "Islamized" before being returned to France, Mrs. Le Pen revealed that she has been watching too much American television -- notably Homeland, where one of the central characters, Brody, held prisoner for eight years  in Iraq, is "turned" by his captors and comes home to carry out an attack on his country.

In expressing her "shock" at the "strange" appearance of these four men, who, it must be said, haven't had too much time over the past three years to think about their wardrobe, Mrs. Le Pen demonstrated that her conspiratorial bent, her obsession with plots and concealments, her obsessive belief that "they don't tell us everything" and that the most important decisions are made "behind our backs," have no limits. Because this form of paranoia is central to the extremist temperament that she claims to want to purge from her party, hasn't she just given herself away here, as well?

In summoning these four men to "explain themselves" (yes, those are the words she used) the moment they set foot on French soil, without giving them a chance to hug their mothers and fiancées, with two of them still unable to look directly into daylight -- by implying that the former hostages owe Inspector Le Pen, here and now, "some explanations," by uttering those words, issuing that order, transforming four survivors into suspects who supposedly owe her, the well-informed Mrs. Le Pen, an account of their actions, she demonstrated a brutality, cruelty, and insensitivity to the suffering of others that chilled the blood of the French people.

With her "suspicions," the indecency of which was matched only by their preposterousness, Mrs. Le Pen has taken another step up the ladder of that identity-based terror that is fuel for the racism that she pretends to disclaim but that, unfortunately for her, sticks to her like glue and assumes ever-wilder proportions. After being fixated on "occupation" by foreigners, she has moved on to fearing "infiltration." When last we saw her she was complaining about street prayers being "provocations" that mimicked (minus the tanks) the Nazi occupation; now she's haunted by a hidden, inner Islam that has become an insidious and almost undetectable poison. She was terrified enough by five million visible Muslims -- but now what about the invisible ones! What about Islam hidden under scarves and in people's heads? What about that barely perceptible Islam suggested by the cut of a beard, the cultivation of which she appears to believe was among the top preoccupations of the hostages? And from that perspective, what good French citizen can say with certainty that he is free from that secret corruption, from that contagion powerful enough to overcome four strong men who underwent terrible torments and seemed to survive?

You never know, do you, where and when idiocy will catch up with you?

You concoct a personality, a smile, poses, armor.

But your unconscious lurks below, waiting to strike -- in a slip, a lapse. Just as, according to a great writer whom Mrs. Le Pen should reread (or read), there is no regime that can stand up to two minutes of truth, there is no concoction that can survive the truth revealed by a cracking mask.

In the end, you see, the lie always loses.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy

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